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The Health Benefits of Royal Jelly

By Matt Durkin MSc Nutrition Specialist | 4th May 2018

Royal jelly is a substance that has developed a mythical reputation amongst many fans of traditional, natural remedies.

But what is the reality behind royal jelly and why are so many people making use of this incredible substance?

What is Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly is a substance which is produced by female nurse bees. Unlike honey, which represents the food used by bees of all castes, royal jelly is altogether more special. It is fed to all grubs for the first few days after they hatch, but this supply soon dwindles for all but the queens.

Scientists have shown that only when a grub is fed continually on royal jelly does it actually transform into a queen bee. This gives some indication of just how powerful royal jelly really can be; it can literally be the difference between a worker and royalty. 

While honey is primarily comprised of a handful of different sugars in a watery suspension, the chemical makeup of royal jelly is altogether more interesting. It has been shown to be roughly 12% protein and 5% fatty acids - particularly medium-chain fatty acids. Alongside this there are trace concentrations of many different minerals and some vitamins - most notable vitamin B1 (Thiamine). 

Many of these elements seem to have effects on the bodies of both bees and people. Possibly most influential of all, however, is the dominant fatty acid known to scientists as 10H2DA, to which many health benefits are attributed. So let’s delve a little deeper and see exactly what royal jelly seems to offer the health-conscious individual...

Benefits of Royal Jelly

While royal jelly has not undergone the same level of scrutiny that many other traditional remedies have, recent scientific investigations have begun to give us a glimpse into the activities of this incredible substance... 

Antibiotics

It was mentioned above that royal jelly is approximately 12% protein, but that protein isn’t just used for growth and repair; some proteins have far more intriguing properties. One of these proteins, known to experts as “royalisin”, has shown all manner of antibiotic and antifungal properties. 

Studies have demonstrated that royal jelly can protect against a long list of potentially-dangerous microbes including everything from E.coli (responsible for urinary tract infections and food poisoning, among others) to Staphylococcus aureus (the source of common “Staph infections”).

It’s not just bacteria that are positively affected by royal jelly. Studies have also found that royal jelly may help to fight off potentially harmful fungi and the toxins that they release.

Fumonisins are toxins released by a fungus known as Fusarium verticillioides. They are known to cause a range of health conditions in people and animals alike. Oddly, studies have shown that the consumption of royal jelly seems to offer protection against these toxins, with test participants showing far better bloodwork than untreated individuals. 

Intriguingly, therefore, it seems that worker bees are feeding their queens a natural antibiotic, which no doubt helps to keep them in good health. Now anyone can benefit from these impressive properties by consuming a royal jelly supplement.  

Blood Glucose Control

Royal jelly has been shown in studies to help lower blood sugar levels.Diabetes is a growing problem in western nations, and while royal jelly doesn’t promise to cure diabetes, there is growing evidence that it can positively affect glucose control in the body. 

In one study volunteers were asked to consume a sugar-rich beverage while having their blood sugar levels measured. Once their levels had fallen back to normal they consumed 20 grams of royal jelly and completed the same experiment again. This time, however, the results differed significantly, with blood glucose levels being much lower. 

It has been proposed that one of the ingredients found in royal jelly may therefore act rather like artificial insulin, encouraging greater uptake of glucose from the body. 

Such intriguing results have led to research being expanded from healthy individuals to those with diabetes. A group of women with type 2 diabetes took 1,000mg of royal jelly per day or a placebo for a period of eight weeks. Once results had been collected the scientists in question concluded that “the mean fasted blood glucose decreased remarkably” among individuals consuming royal jelly.

While this research is very much in its infancy these are exciting discoveries, which suggest that royal jelly - or one of its constituents - may represent a potent future treatment for diabetes sufferers.  

Cholesterol Control 

Chemists have noted that small amounts of plant sterols are found in royal jelly, as are of course the fatty acids discussed earlier; both substances which have shown to help fight high cholesterol levels in the body. It logically follows that royal jelly has the potential to impact cholesterol levels in the body, but now this assertion has been tested in the laboratory. 

When volunteers took 6 grams of royal jelly per day for a period of four weeks both their total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels fell, while no such change was seen in the placebo group.

Further studies have added to our knowledge on the subject. One detailed meta-analysis, which gathered the results of numerous previous studies, looked to measure the magnitude of the effect. Their results demonstrated that taking approximately 50-100mg of royal jelly per day “decreased total serum cholesterol levels by about 14%” - an impressive result.

It seems, therefore, that individuals who are at risk of heart disease thanks to raised cholesterol levels may benefit from the consumption of royal jelly. 

While this property doesn’t initially make much sense from the perspective of bees, it should be remembered how diverse the effect of feeding royal jelly to bee grubs really is. It may well be, therefore, that this property simply developed alongside other more beneficial properties.

Weight Management

A particularly interesting study has suggested that royal jelly may also have a role to play in effective weight management - especially for diabetics who may otherwise struggle with overly restrictive diets. 

Diabetic volunteers were provided with either a 1000mg daily dose of royal jelly or a placebo, while also being asked to record their daily diet. After two months each individual was weighed, and had their diet assessed. 

It was noted that the royal jelly group overall lost around 1.5kg of bodyweight each whilst the control group actually increased in weight by an average of half a kilo. It was concluded that “supplementation with royal jelly may be beneficial in weight management of diabetic patients”. 

Antioxidants

Royal jelly is fed to queen bees.Most of us are aware of the potential damage that free radicals can do to the body. Many experts now believe that the damage these molecules cause is an important factor in numerous deleterious health conditions ranging from atherosclerosis to aging of the skin and even cancer. Studies have shown, however, that royal jelly may be a potent antioxidant, helping to neutralise the risks that free radicals pose to our health. 

One study pitted royal jelly against better-known antioxidants like vitamins C and E. While royal jelly “did not match” these vitamins for their protective ability, the study showed that royal jelly still has “high anti-oxidative activity and scavenging ability against active oxygen species”.

Once again, it seems that bees really are incredible insects, with the royal jelly they feed the queens doing an incredible job of preventing free radical damage.  

Anti-Inflammatory

Inflammation is your body’s way of dealing with potential internal harm. In small volumes inflammation can be highly beneficial and should be seen as an integral part of the immune response. However, when inflammation becomes chronic it can contribute to a range of unpleasant health issues from some forms of arthritis through to atherosclerosis.

Scientists have investigated the effects of royal jelly on inflammation and found some significant effects. T cells are considered to be one of the most crucial aspects of the immune system, which stimulate other cells to kill off bacteria, fungi and other microscopic invaders. 

Royal jelly has been shown to not only down-regulate the activity of T cells, but also the production of cytokines - chemical messengers used by the body as a signal to commence the inflammatory response. 

There is mounting evidence that these anti-inflammatory properties may benefit a range of different health conditions, with some trials suggesting, for example, that the consumption of royal jelly may ease some symptoms of arthritis.  

Cancer Fighting

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic compound that mimics the activity of oestrogen in the body. Oddly, it was once commonly used in manufacturing. Shockingly this includes its use in the production of baby bottles before its use was largely outlawed. Part of the reason for this change in fate is that studies have demonstrated that BPA stimulates the growth of human breast cancer cells. 

Interestingly, researchers have noted that when breast cancer cells are cultured in the laboratory with BPA, royal jelly actually prevents the tumorous cells from growing, suggesting that royal jelly may have potent anti-cancer properties. 

Other research has also suggested that royal jelly is effective at stopping the action of some leukemia cells.

While this is a very new avenue of investigation the results so far are tremendously exciting, and suggest that something as seemingly innocuous as royal jelly may help to halt the growth of cancer cells. 

Side Effects of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly can cause allergic reactions in some people.As should already be clear; royal jelly is a surprisingly potent substance that is capable of wide-ranging genetic and immunological changes in bees. Current research has also outlined a range of effects it can have on the human body, and more discoveries are sure to be made. 

If there is one downside to royal jelly it is that it is so potent that it is known to cause allergic reactions in some unfortunate individuals. The scientific literature suggests that while such incidents are quite rare, potential side effects can include asthma attacks, skin rashes (dermatitis) and other allergies. 

Therefore if you plan to use royal jelly as a health supplement you should take care in the early stages of consumption. If you have any concerns that a reaction may be occurring then you are advised to seek medical assistance immediately.

Despite these warnings, it should be said that these instances very much in the minority and only a tiny fraction of individuals taking royal jelly seem to have any side-effects. 

Conclusion

At this point it seems little wonder that royal jelly has developed such an enviable reputation among natural health aficionados. From its ability to lower blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation; fight off infection or as a weight management aid for diabetics, its effects are astonishingly wide ranging. 

Even more excitingly, the scientific community is only just beginning to illuminate the fascinating world of royal jelly, and no doubt further exciting discoveries will be made in the future. Why not try it out today


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Article by Matt Durkin MSc Nutrition Specialist

Matt Durkin is a Master of Science in the field of Nutrition. Matt is particularly interested in nutritional research and also how our dietary practices impact health, longevity and weight management. In his spare time, Matt enjoys playing cricket and watching a wide variety of sports.

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